Pansies are a form of cultivated, hybridized violet, noted for their large multi-colored flat flowers and their fondness cool temperatures. The types most often sold commercially are known as Viola × wittrockiana or by the older name, Viola tricolor var. hortensis. Most are F1 hybrids derived from crossing V. tricolor with V. lutea and V. altaica.
The gardener knows pansies as flowers with almost heart-shaped, overlapping petals in bright colors or bi-colors, often with face-like center markings. Breeding has produced pansies that are better able to stand up to the cold, but there hasn’t been much luck producing more heat-tolerant varieties. And like their cousins the violas and violets, the flowers are edible if grown organically.
Technically, pansies are short-season perennials, but they are usually grown as annuals. In zones with mild winters, they can be grown as biennials.
Compact, low growers, pansies are ideal for edging and for squeezing in between rock walls and paths, as long as they can be removed in summer. They’re a great choice for early and late season containers, and in the garden they complement spring-flowering bulbs, flowering as the bulb foliage begins to fade. Most pansies don't get very tall; if they do, they will flop or cascade a bit.
Traditional pansies will bloom from spring through early summer, with some repeat bloom in the fall. USDA Zones 7 and warmer can grow pansies throughout the winter, and there are newer varieties, such as the ice pansy, that are bred to withstand light snow.
|Botanical Name||Viola x wittrockiana|
|Plant Type||Short-lived perennial usually grown as an annual|
|Mature Size||4 to 8 inches tall, 4 to 6 inches wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil Type||Loose, well-draining soil amended with mushroom compost|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic, 6.0-6.2|
|Bloom Time||Spring through early summer|
|Flower Color||White, yellow, purple, blue|
|Hardiness Zones||7 to 11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, eastern Asia|
How to Grow Pansies
When buying nursery plants, choose pansies that are stocky, bushy, and have plenty of buds. Avoid plants full of open blooms, because they will be stressed to near exhaustion from working so hard in a tiny pot.
If you can allow your pansy plants to remain in your garden and rest during the hottest months, they will probably begin blooming again in the fall. Shearing the plants back when they start to set seed will encourage new growth. Deadheading (cutting dead flowers off a healthy plant) will encourage more blooms.
Pansies will bloom best in full sun to partial shade, but they will stay fresh looking and keep blooming longer if grown in partial shade.
Although pansies are not fussy plants, they will grow best in loose, rich soil with a slightly acid pH (6.0 to 6.2). They are heavy feeders, so amend your soil with mushroom compost to give them a good start.
Regular watering will help them hang on a bit longer, but don’t expect your pansies to last all season. Pansies prefer moist--but not soggy--soil. Make sure to use containers with drainage holes or if planting in ground, make certain the soil drains well.
Temperature and Humidity
Pansies do not like heat at all and will begin to decline as the days warm up.
As with any long-blooming annual plant, pansies appreciate some fertilizer. However, too much food will just make them leggy. They respond well to monthly foliar feeding. Use a balanced fertilizer according to the label's directions.
Suggested Varieties of Pansy
If you like the variety of colors but still want a sense of cohesion, select plants from the same series. They’ll be similar in size and markings, regardless of the color.
- Bolero Series: Large, ruffled, semi-double flowers; does well in both spring and fall
- Bingo Series: Large-flowered in 14 colors from pale blue to burgundy; blooms earlier than the popular Majestic Giants series
- Cool Wave Series: Fast-growing with vigorous bloom; plants have a spreading habit, like Cool Wave petunias. Good "spillers" for containers
- Freefall Series: Day-neutral, trailing plants; great for containers
- Joker Series: Very pronounced faces; bicolored in complementary colors
- Princess Series: Compact growth habit and dainty flowers; monochromatic tones from cream to deep purple, with yellow centers
Growing Pansies From Seed
If the plants are not dead-headed, pansies will drop seeds that readily take root. In colder climates, you may find that the next spring brings a large cluster of volunteer seedlings where the old plants were located.
However, most pansies are F1 hybrids, and the seeds they produce will not grow into plants that resemble the parents. You will likely get flowers that have reverted to one of the genetic parents of the hybrid. This is not always a bad thing, as you may well appreciate the surprising result. For example, a patch of pansies planted one year may self-seed into a group of volunteer Johnny-jump-ups (Viola tricolor) the next year, since V. tricolor is one of the parents of many hybrid pansies.
The best way to grow hybrid pansies from seed is to buy commercial F1 hybrid seeds, which are created by hand-pollinating one species with the pollen from another species.
Cast the seeds over a tray of seed-starting mix, moisten the tray, and keep covered with black plastic until the seeds germinate (about two weeks). Then remove the plastic and transfer the tray to a bright location and keep the soil moist. Stratifying the seeds for two weeks helps improve germination. When the seedlings are a few inches all and have at least two sets of true leaves, transplant them into small pots and keep them growing in a bright location until it's time to transplant them outdoors. Harden off seedlings for two weeks, gradually introducing them to outside conditions, before planting outside.
Growing Pansies in Containers
With their trailing habit, pansies are very popular for containers and window boxes. They don't like soggy roots, so make sure to use a relatively loose, well-draining potting mix and a container with good drainage. A slow-release fertilizer added to the potting mix is a good idea. Pinch off leggy growth and deadhead regularly, and feed the plants with a balanced liquid fertilizer every few weeks.
Common Pests and Diseases
Slugs can be a nuisance during wet seasons, especially if growing in partial shade. Use a slug bait or thin out the planting, so it’s less damp. Occasionally, aphids will attack pansies. Insecticidal soap should remove them. Use caution if you prefer to kill aphids with a strong blast of water since pansies are rather small and delicate.